medwireNews: Assigning student mentors to teenagers with type 1 diabetes and low socioeconomic status brings a variety of benefits to both mentors and mentees, show the results of a US pilot study.
This pilot phase of the All for ONE peer mentoring program focused on publically insured teens, because of evidence that socioeconomic status is in large part responsible for disparities in health outcomes among adolescents with diabetes. It paired them with college student mentors who also had type 1 diabetes.
“This intervention represents one additional layer of social support that we can give communities living with type 1 diabetes,” lead researcher Ashby Walker (University of Florida, Gainesville, USA) told medwireNews.
She added: “I think it demonstrates the power of people, and how they can be powerful agents for each other.”
The scheme is no longer restricted by socioeconomic background, however, because feedback from doctors during the pilot convinced the team that all teenagers with type 1 diabetes would benefit from student mentoring, so the extended, quality improvement stage of the project, which has now been running for a year and a half, takes teenagers irrespective of their socioeconomic status.
The pilot phase lasted for 9 months, during which the student and teen pairs had weekly text message exchanges, attended the teenagers’ clinic appointments together, and attended social events, run twice per semester, with the other program participants and their families. The social events were “infused with vital diabetes education,” the team explains in Pediatric Diabetes.
During this time, the 22 mentored teenagers registered a “marked improvement” averaging approximately 4.5 points on the six-item Children’s Hope Scale, compared with no change among 20 teens who did not participate in the project.
Almost all (95%) of the mentored teens returned to at least one clinic appointment during the program, compared with 65% of the control group, representing “clear improvement in adherence to routine endocrinology visits,” say the researchers.
The mentored teens were aged 13.86 years on average at baseline and their average glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) level was 9.76% (83 mmol/mol). This stayed relatively stable throughout the program, increasing by an average of 0.09%, whereas the level in the control group rose by an average of 0.28%.
Interestingly, HbA1c levels among the 22 student mentors fell by an average of 0.22%. All the mentors said they would participate in the program again, in particular because of the opportunity to meet other students with type 1 diabetes. They also appreciated helping someone else, improving their own glycemic control, and participating in the weekly directed research course to support their mentoring.
Student mentors were paid a stipend totaling US$ 500 (€ 453)for their participation, but Walker noted that this is not available in the ongoing quality improvement program, “and we have had no problem getting the college students to participate.” She suggested that their motivation is “intrinsic,” and driven “by something greater than money.”
The majority (77%) of the mentors in the pilot phase were female, and therefore so too were the students, because the student–teen pairs were sex-matched. Walker described the reluctance of males to participate as “an ongoing issue for any social scientist,” and said that it limits their ability to recruit male teens.
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